The Madness of King George might finally claim Joe Torre.
Torre’s offense? No World Series rings since 2000 has left The Boss fiending for championship bling. Regular season? What regular season? Georgie Boy doesn’t blubber over AL East pennants. So never mind that Torre’s calm demeanor has steered the Yankees to a division title in 10 of his 12 seasons. Forget about the fact that Torre brought this year’s team back from a 21-29 record this season to claim the American League Wild Card. The regular season may as well be the pre-season as far as George Steinbrenner is concerned.
However, if Steinbrenner really just wants another World Series trophy to parade around, firing Torre is the last thing he should do.
The Yankees stand on the precipice of large-scale changes this off season, managerial change not included. There’s a distinct possibility that the Yankees could lose Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. Assuming that Roger Clemens isn’t asked back — and he shouldn’t be — the Yanks could be missing three of their top eight hitters and three fifths of their starting rotation. Those are big holes to fill. While Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain can, and likely will, replace Clemens and Mussina in the rotation, there is a shortage of young talent New York can infuse into its lineup and expect to contend for a World Series. Eric Duncan is the Yankees’ highly-touted third-base prospect, but hit .241 in 113 games at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre this season. The Yankees’ top catching prospect, Jesus Montero, is 17 years old.
The only way New York will be able to contend for a World Series next year is to keep the majority of this team intact. The best candidate to chaperon a team like that would probably be one who has guided similar rosters to 12 consecutive postseason appearances.
The problem in New York is the expectations. And Steinbrenner’s won’t get any smaller. Whoever succeeds Torre, be it Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi or even Tony La Russa, will be immediately expected to accomplish the only thing the current Yankee manager has not done since 2000 — win a world series. And if the Yankee vets like Posada, Pettitte and Rivera walk, then the probability of that happening falls somewhere in the neighborhood of a snowball in Dante’s Sixth Circle … maybe the Seventh.
Further proving his irrationality is Steinbrenner’s use of the division series loss to the Cleveland Indians. The fact of the matter is that New York was still one biblical plague away from playing Game Five. This series was not decided by managerial acumen. The pivotal points were instead a few defensive flicks of the bat that produced runs instead of outs for the Indians, a host of two-out RBI that the Yankees’ high-priced bats simply couldn’t match and the army of gnats that induced Chamberlain into a series of wild pitches in Game Two.
The things that Torre could affect — lineup and pitching changes — were not things that would have altered the outcome of this series. The only way he could have had a lasting impact would have been if he’d carried a bottle of “Off!” bug repellent with him to Cleveland. And good luck getting that past the Transportation Security Administration.
Could you criticize the decision to start the ineffective Chien-Ming Wang on three days rest in Game Four? Sure. But you’d also have to come up with a replacement starter. Mussina pitched decently in relief, but there are batting tees that gave up fewer hits than Moose did in the second half of this season. The only oversight may have been leaving rookie starter Ian Kennedy off of the postseason roster. But if you were forced to pick between a 22-year-old and a future Hall of Famer like Roger Clemens, even if the Rocket was at 80-percent, I think you’d be hard pressed to take the youngster.
In his haste to condemn Torre, Steinbrenner is idiotically discounting this team’s achievements in the regular season, and in the process ignoring the difficulty of winning in the pressure cooker that is Gotham.
The Yankee regular season is a grind that wears on the most seasoned of players and managers. Through it all, Torre’s Zen-like skills keep the team on an even keel through news cycles full of Jeter girlfriends, A-Rod offenses, A-Rod’s wife’s offense, A-Rod’s offense, or lack thereof, and starting pitching meltdowns. Oh yeah, and there are all those pennant thingies he keeps winning, which just happen to be an essential ingredient to any World Series run.
If Steinbrenner isn’t willing to adjust his expectations, then he should shelve the axe.